Impact of COVID-19 on Parenting Orders

The COVID-19 pandemic has rendered some existing parenting orders about care
arrangements for children no longer practical or in the best interests of children. For
example, a child might need to self-isolate or parenting orders might concern afterschool
pickups, with the school now being closed due to COVID-19.
The spread of COVID-19 has also caused some Australian states and territories to impose
restrictions on individuals from other states and territories entering their borders. A key
example is Queensland that, subject to some exceptions, has closed its borders off to
Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Such border restrictions
have the potential to detrimentally affect parenting arrangements where children are
required to travel interstate between households. The border restrictions are primarily a
matter for each state or territory government and therefore parents should make enquiries
with the relevant state and territory authorities about how border restrictions and
quarantine requirements may impact their circumstances.
Some states and territories have introduced exemptions to border restrictions that permit
parents to visit their children in accordance with parenting orders. For example, although
Queensland has closed its borders to New South Wales, individuals are still permitted to
enter Queensland from New South Wales if they must fulfil a legal obligation relating to
shared parenting or child contact. With respect to states and territories that haven’t made
such an exception to border restrictions, it may be impossible to comply with existing
parenting orders.
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Informal Agreements
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and border restrictions, parents need to be as flexible as
possible during these times and attempt to reach a temporary agreement to vary parenting
orders. If parents are able to reach such an agreement, they can avoid having to go to court
to vary existing parenting orders.
Parenting Plans
Where parents are able to reach an agreement to vary parenting orders, they are also able
to formally vary existing parenting orders through a parenting plan.
A parenting plan:

  1. must be in writing, signed and dated (or at least agreed via e-mail, text message or
    other written electronic means);
  2. can be changed by another signed written agreement; and
  3. can have an end date e.g. you might agree on a parenting plan that will be in place
    until the COVID-19 pandemic has passed or until a parent is no longer required to
    If parents are unable to reach a temporary agreement to vary existing parenting orders,
    they are able to apply to the Court to change parenting orders or alternatively they may
    need to go to Court to enforce parenting orders against a non-complying parent. As a result,
    there has been an urgent need for Courts to deal with increased number of parenting
    disputes that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    COVID-19 List
    In response to the increased number of parenting disputes, the Courts have launched a
    COVID-19 List to deal with urgent parenting disputes. The COVID-19 List commenced on 29
    April 2020 and was designed to quickly identify and deal with cases that need urgent
    attention due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications that are eligible to be dealt with
    through the COVID-19 List will receive immediate attention and if successfully assessed by a
    Registrar, they will be allocated to a judge to be heard within 72 hours. Parenting orders
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    impacted by parties testing positive for COVID-19 and/or border restrictions are highly likely
    to be considered as suitable applications under the COVID-19 List.
    We are committed to working with our clients to resolve parenting disputes and arrange
    parenting orders that are both practical and in the best interests of the children. Please
    contact us on (02) 9191 9293 or if you require legal advice in relation to
    your parenting dispute or if the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected your existing
    parenting orders.
    Further Resources
    You may find the following articles from the Federal Circuit Court useful: